Wednesday, June 24, 2009


It has been quiet on the old blog lately because we were on vacation - a glorious vacation staying with my parents in Southern California. Cora finally got to meet her cousins on my side of the family (she'll get a shot at the other side later in the summer), and it was wonderful to see them all together: five adorable little boys and Cora. Plus my grandma, Nana-Nanny as Cora calls her, my Aunts, cousins, and an uncle, too!

One of our favorite moments was Cora sitting with a Mother Goose book and calling to her cousins, "Boys, boys! Come here so I can read you a story!" while they madly clashed their light sabers a few feet away.

(Cora in the spa with cousins and me)

I could write a long time about how much I love spending time with my family, and how we so rarely get to, about how much they all love Chris and how much they all dote on Cora, and the fabulous food we like to cook for each other...but maybe I will just list a few moments that were highlights for us.

(Cora and cousins all in one chair! Crazy times!)

Seeing my brothers and their families, and especially playing soccer with my brothers and their sons for a while at the park - and seeing that those little boys are all nice enough to let their Auntie think she can kick a ball halfway decently. Well, except for when she tries a drop kick. She really shouldn't do that.

For Cora one of the highlights was having breakfast with Snow White! My cousin Traci is an amazing singer and an all-around good soul and she also does princess parties. She came dressed as Snow White and brought muffins, sang songs, told stories, did a craft, and taught Cora a dance and generally gave her a fabulous morning.

Traci had told me ahead of time that she really preferred to stay in character, so Cora and I talked about that and we thought of questions we could ask Snow White - and she remembered the questions, and had no problem pretending along with Traci.

(Can you tell how much she enjoyed this? And that dress - she dances with joy every time she puts it on. Totally worth the extra investment in Oxi-Clean!)

Going to the beach, Chris and I and Cora and my mom. Cora, of course, fell asleep on the way, so I sat in the car with her for a while and watched the waves, the sunbathers and kids running back and forth. And nearly wept with nostalgia and love for it all. And this time around Cora LOVED the beach. She watched while two young women near us took turns burying each other in sand, and then turned to me and said very decisively, "I need a fishy tail, Momma, will you make me a fishy tail in the sand?" So I did. It's so easy to forget how much fun wet sand can be! I taught Cora how to make drip castles and we made an impressive drip castle fort.

Being in the spa ranks high in the list too - Cora learned how to push off and kick with a swim ring, and she had great fun doing that first with her Dad, and then showing me what she could do.

My youngest brother bought his family 3-day Disney passes, and only used 2 days, bequeathing us the third day. We had planned to skip Disneyland this time around, based on the expense and thinking Cora might be too young still. But. Wow. She loved it - loved the few rides we went on (all the boat-based ones). Watching her watch "It's a Small World" was like a primer on enchantment. We didn't see many princesses, but she met Mickey, and spotted Mary Poppins out in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

We made our pilgrimmage to In-n-Out Burger (mmmmm), played lots of Legos, watched some movies, my mom showed me all her current quilting projects (always an inspiration to me) and took me to her quilt shop (where Cora was charming until she left with a "goodbye green old lady!" to one of the women there), we ate great food, we went to their farmers' market with Mom and Dad - one of my favorite things is always grocery shopping with my parents, oddly, maybe because it was so much fun when I was little, though they might remember that differently.

Really, I just love hanging out with my parents. Isn't that crazy? Don't I hope Cora one day says the same thing!

(Oh, and, on the airplane? Cora was fabulously well-behaved. On the way out she got to visit the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit as we were boarding. Both flights she stayed in her seat, had some snacks, drank most of our shared orange juice, watched a ballet on her little player, and took a nap. She was quite the big girl.)

(More pictures in a few days.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dinner, Beautiful Dinner

I wish I had taken pictures of dinner tonight, but while the beautiful food was part of the beauty of the whole thing, it wasn't the whole of it. There was the weather, the complete lack of mosquitoes and other bugs that make me stay inside in the summer, the perfect temperature, the nice company of Chris and Cora (though she did wiggle away half way through and spend the next 30 minutes carrying sand from the sand mountain to the sandbox...skirtful by skirtful).

So, it is hard to explain all the dimensions, but let me try with the food:
- Lemon-garlic chicken kabobs (on sale! less than a pound for the three of us, so more of a meat side dish, just like I'm trying to do. grilled to perfection by Chris.)
- Pesto pasta (leftover pesto, ends of two boxes of pasta - linguine and fettucine - and Cora LOVES it.)
- Golden beets (roasted while Cora napped two days ago) and blue cheese (organic and local from our CSA - perfect for me, but a little sharp for Chris)
- Salad (end of a head of red leaf plus baby spinach from the CSA plus sliced radishes from Cora's garden - she chose them, pulled them, washed them, put the slices in the salad, and even ate a couple slices)
- Plus Leiney's Sunset Wheat beer for the adults.

So, food that was on sale, leftover, needing to be finished up, local, CSA-grown, homegrown, that everyone liked and everyone contributed to the making of the meal. It might sound a little corny, but I love that!

This goes along with my larger summer food project - all those things above, and also to make a bigger push to eat more veggies and to try some different ones. Not too many new or different things tonight, but all the rest was there. This is in connection with a plan I have for my fall classes. One of the books we will be reading is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm going to ask my students to create for themselves some kind of semester-long project or plan (it needn't be food-related, of course), track their project/endeavor, and then their final paper will be a reflection on their experience, much like Kingsolver's book is. And just like AVM has sidebars with more information (scientific info and recipes), I'm going to ask them to have sidebars also.

I haven't done an assignment like this before, so this summer I am being my own guinea pig and doing the assignment myself. Then I'll also have a "short-form" model to show them. They will probably think I am the biggest dork ever...but, let's face it, that's inevitable.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Overheard this afternoon

Chris was upstairs after putting Cora down for a nap and, in the midst of other chatter, heard this fabulous sentence:

"Oh no, Monster, I'm sorry, but it's not your turn."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thoughts on reading and picture books

Last night, after stories and songs and settling Cora into bed, I came downstairs and turned the monitor on. All was quiet, her bedtime music faint in the background, for about 15 minutes. Then, some stirring. Then, she said loudly, "I am tired of your tricks! I am coming down the chimney to eat you up!"

We've been reading various versions of The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. We've read the original story, we've read The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark, and we've read the particularly delightful The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. Now the original, you might remember, has the wolf actually gobbling up the first two pigs, coming down the third pig's chimney and falling into a pot of boiling soup, and being eaten up in turn by the third pig. The other two revision versions do not feature much gobbling of anyone - the little fishes escape, the little wolves all live together and the pig learns to be nice.

A friend asked me the other day how I handle scary things in stories with Cora - things like wolves swallowing little girls whole, wolves gobbling little pigs and then being cooked, stepmothers demanding the lungs and liver of beautiful girls, and the ever-popular red-hot-iron-dancing shoes. Scary stuff indeed, and stuff I absolutely gobbled up as a child myself. I mostly handle it through these multiple versions, showing that stories can change and be changed - this removes some of the power of authority from the originals, and gives some of that power to Cora. She can choose which version to hear, or to think about, or she can create a new one that is somewhere in between (she is a big fan of having the wolf vomit up Little Red and Grandma - not, I think, a version you will find in a picture book anytime soon). So, I told my friend about this.

Then, another friend who was there mentioned that in the Waldorf philosophy - the educational world her children were raised in - there is a bias against picture books, even for very young children. As my friend explained it, the idea is that you only read aloud to your child without showing the pictures, or from books that have no pictures. This approach, the philosophy says, allows your child to create his or her own pictures and learn to rely on and exercise her imagination.

"I don't think my daughter would stand for that," my friend replied.

I didn't really say anything at the time, because I was surprised at how horrified I felt! On the one hand, I see the Waldorf point. On the other hand, I don't see Cora's imagination being fenced in by the pictures she sees. She likes it when we get to the end of a book and there's a picture of the person who wrote the story and the person who drew and colored the pictures. She likes studying the pictures and talking about them - we both like the books where there are things happening in the pictures that aren't part of the text. A recurrent element for example, like the chipmunk in each picture of When Will It Be Spring?, always doing something different, always near the main character Alfie, a small bear cub. Or the details of a dress, a castle, the way the only color in the Olivia books is red, and so on.

And I think that when it comes to scary things, illustrations can help to make the scary manageable - it delineates it, the same way talking about fear puts it in a linguistic container, instead of letting it spill all over your mind. One of the pages Cora particularly likes to look at in the three pigs book is a close up of the wolf's slavering face - she sits and traces his teeth with her finger and stares into his eyes. Then she closes him up in the book. Safe. And then she pretends to be the Big Bad Wolf, and tells me how much she loves him.*

Right now I'm reading a new book by Maria Tatar called Enchanted Hunters: the Power of Stories in Childhood. In this book she explores "how literature touches us when we are young, moving and transforming us with its intoxicating, enthralling, and occasionally terrifying energy." She writes mainly about the books we read to ourselves as children, but also about picture books and the stories that are read to us.

At one point she quotes the poet Dana Gioia as saying, "The books we read are no different from the people we meet and the cities we visit. Some books, people, or places hardly matter, others change our lives, and still others plant some idea or sentiment that influences our future."

At the end of the introduction she says something I really love: "Words have not just the astonishing capacity to banish boredom and create wonders. They also enable contact with the lives of others and with story worlds, arousing endless curiosity about ourselves and the places we inhabit." I believe this is also true of art, of the stories visually told.

*I admit to being particularly pleased about her affection for the Big Bad Wolf, as he was my invisible friend for much of my childhood.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A retrospective

I really do intend to be a more faithful blogger this summer. I have an idea for an assignment for next fall that I want to try out on myself, for example (more about that later). But, for now, for today, just to get back in to the practice, it's going to be mostly pictures. A little trip back in time with Cora.

May 10, 2006 - a smiler in her sleep.

April 20, 2007 - a serious moment with Corduroy Bear.

April 22, 2008 - a goofball at the table.

April 18, 2009 - always in motion, usually laughing.